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'You never think about this moment like that': Steve Foley reflects on his historic career after Ring of Fame election

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sticky fingers can sometimes get you into a lot of trouble, and sometimes they can get you out of it.

Newly elected Ring of Famer Steve Foley can certainly attest to that.

The former college quarterback-turned-defensive back was thrown into the fire in his rookie season when veteran cornerback Calvin Jones suffered a knee injury during a Week 8 game against the Raiders. Foley, a backup safety, was the emergency substitution. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler and wideout Fred Biletnikoff quickly took advantage with a 31-yard score on the young defender.

Two weeks later, defensive coordinator Joe Collier told Foley he would be in the starting lineup facing another future Hall of Fame quarterback: Chargers star Dan Fouts.

"He says, 'You're going to start against Dan Fouts and the Chargers," Foley recalled on Thursday. "And I'm like, 'OK. At corner?' And he says, 'By the way, he's going to come at you. You're a rookie, [cornerback] Louis [Wright] is fairly established. … He's not going to go at Louis.' And I was like, 'Phew, OK.' Nothing like a little pressure."

Foley responded well, even in spite of particularly challenging circumstances. A Broncos turnover put the Chargers deep in Denver territory in the first quarter, but Foley picked off Fouts at the 5-yard line to prevent a scoring opportunity and spark a touchdown drive.

In the fourth quarter, Fouts again aimed in Foley's direction, this time looking for six points. Foley secured his second interception of the day in the end zone.

After the 17-0 shutout, Foley and Collier each were given game balls, and Foley also received a starting role for good.

"I remember Joe saying, 'That's your position,'" Foley said. "Game ball and we won that game. And I was like, 'Phew.' It very easily could have been two touchdowns the other way. You know Dan Fouts and those receivers, they were great. Things happen for a reason, and I'm thankful."

Over his 11-year career, Foley became a staple on the dominant Orange Crush defense, with timely interceptions as his calling card, whether at cornerback or free safety. From 1978-84, Foley logged five seasons with at least five interceptions. By the time he finished his career, he was the franchise's all-time leader in interceptions with 44.

That record still stands today, which is particularly impressive when you consider the caliber of defensive backs that have played in Denver over the years, including Champ Bailey, Goose Gonsoulin and so many other greats.

"People say, 'Oh, with free agency, it's not going to get broken,'" Foley said. "It'll get broken, maybe. Records are made to be broken."

Beyond the individual success, Foley was important to the team's rapid rise into Super Bowl contention. In 1977, Foley's first season as a full-time starter, the Broncos won their first division title and conference championship en route to a Super Bowl XII appearance. Denver earned five more postseason berths and made another Super Bowl before Foley's retirement, but the first postseason run still holds a special place in his heart.

View photos from former Broncos safety Steve Foley's Ring of Fame career.

"I think the older you get, the sweeter it is," Foley said. "You realize that you were part of the beginning of championship football here that we've become so accustomed to here. It was a special time in Denver history. And it can't be replaced. It was Mile High Magic. It was magic here. I've never seen such a rabid group of fans, and finally something came to the middle of the country and they had to pay attention to us. And, of course, we had home-field advantage, we got to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the middle of their four Super Bowls — right in the middle. We got to beat them at home and we got to beat the Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship and a chance to go win a Super Bowl. Just a special time. Again, we had a special group of men."

Foley, who was notified of his Ring of Fame election by Owner & CEO Greg Penner on Thursday morning, said he was shocked by the news.

"What a great day for me," Foley said. "I woke up to a phone call from Greg Penner and did not expect that. I'm extremely humbled and honored to have this honor. I didn't even dream about these things when I was playing quarterback at Tulane. Never thought about defense."

To celebrate the honor, the Broncos welcomed Foley and much of his family to Broncos Park Powered by CommonSpirit. They watched practice from the sideline before Head Coach Sean Payton brought Foley into the team huddle to conclude the week of on-field work.

At the middle of the circle, Foley emphasized the lessons he learned from that special time in his career.

"When you play for the love of the game, you don't play for honors," Foley said he told the team. "You never think about this moment like that. But when you play for the love of the game and the love of your teammates, some amazing things happen. And if you're persevering enough, you will catch that lightning in a bottle that happens from that."

If there's one moment of sadness to it all, though, it's that the man who saw his potential as a defensive back isn't around to see it. Collier passed away on May 6.

"I just wish I could give Joe Collier a call," Foley said. "… He was an incredible coach and man and got the most out of us. He's just a special, special man. I just wish that I could have … said, 'Joe, another one of yours is in.'"

This fall, Foley will be honored alongside fellow Ring of Fame electee Riley Odoms and Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Gradishar during the Broncos' Week 5 game against the Raiders, and he'll be able to relive those memories with many of his teammates. The Broncos announced Thursday that the entire 1977 team will be recognized during Alumni Weekend festivities. For Foley, that may be the biggest treat of all.

"We played with a group of great guys," Foley said. "I want to thank guys like [Ring of Fame LB] Tommy Jackson, [Ring of Fame S] Dennis Smith, [Ring of Fame S] Billy Thompson, Barney Chavous and Rubin Carter. [Former Broncos DE] Lyle [Alzado] is no longer with us, but all of my teammates that I played with and of course Louis Wright. [Former Broncos S] Bernard Jackson was free safety there, [former Broncos S] Mike Harden, Dennis Smith and just an exceptional group of men. That's the biggest honor to me."

Shortly after it was announced that he had been elected to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, former safety Steve Foley visited Broncos Park Powered by CommonSpirit and was welcomed at the team's OTA practice to watch practice and break down the team huddle.

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